by Jim Adler
Under current Texas law, a drunk driver who flees a fatal wreck is given extra motivation to do so, since intoxication can’t be proven after the fact, and the penalty for hit-and-run is less than that for intoxication manslaughter.
But a new law taking effect Sept. 1 has toughened Texas’ stance against hit-and-run drivers — drivers who are on the rise in this state.
Under SB 275, introduced by Sen. Kirk Watson (D.-Austin), any driver who flees the scene of an injury accident no longer would commit a third-degree felony bringing punishment of up to a $10,000 fine and a prison sentence of two to 10 years.
Instead, a hit-and-run with injury will become a second-degree felony, punishable with a $10,000 maximum fine but also two to 20 years in prison — a sentence potentially twice as long.
That punishment is comparable to the punishment for intoxication manslaughter itself, which already is a second-degree felony. So a drunk driver no longer can escape with less punishment by fleeing the scene to sober up, provided that driver later is caught. And a driver who isn’t drunk but flees the scene faces the same punishment.
The measure also passed the Texas House — by a vote of 130-0 — and is ready to become law Sept. 1.
Already, Austin has had more hit-and-run cases this year. According to a recent tally, Austin had had 14 more hit-and-run cases in 2013 than at the same time in 2012.
But across the state, each day we read of crashes with injury where the driver who caused it sped away.
Starting in September, fleeing the scene in this cowardly way will be much more costly if the driver is caught. Maybe that will make some people think twice. And those who flee anyway will face a rightfully tougher punishment if apprehended.